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Beliefnet News

Even After Win, Gay Clergy Likely to Remain Limited

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) Gay and lesbian advocates celebrated a landmark victory on Tuesday (May 10) when the Presbyterian Church (USA) entered the expanding ranks of Christian denominations that allow openly gay, partnered clergy.

The winds of change, they said, are at their backs.

“Presbyterians join a growing Protestant movement of Lutherans, Episcopalians and United Church of Christ members who have eliminated official barriers to leadership by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons,” a coalition of pro-gay Presbyterians said in a statement.

The momentum of the gay clergy movement, however, may soon grind to a halt.

“There is not another denomination I see on the horizon right now that is on the cusp of this,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research and consulting firm.


Officially, the PCUSA’s decades-old barrier will fall in July, after Presbyterians in Minnesota voted to effectively revoke a rule that had barred sexually active gays and lesbians from becoming ministers, elders and deacons.

The new policy, which was passed by the church’s General Assembly last summer, required approval from a majority of 173 regional presbyteries. Since 1997, three similar amendments had failed at the regional level.

Lisa Larges, a San Francisco lesbian blocked from pursuing ordination for 25 years, called Tuesday’s vote “a new beginning,” for her calling and her church. “With this vote, our church is demonstrating that we are choosing to reach out to a new generation,” Larges said.


But even as gay and lesbian Christians celebrated, some acknowledged that steep challenges lie ahead in other denominations, particularly the country’s largest four: the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those four denominations, whose leaders show few signs of accepting gay clergy or relationships, together count nearly 100 million members. By contrast, the four largest denominations that allow gay clergy together count less than 11 million members. The Presbyterian Church (USA), for example, has about 2.1 million members.

“I do think there is momentum on this,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, a UCC minister and director of the church component of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen with lightening speed, and I don’t think it’s inevitable.” she said.


Gay rights activists in the United Methodist Church, for example, have labored in vain for years to remove a rule that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and bars the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, just 32 percent of Methodist ministers want to allow gay clergy.

“The data would not suggest that United Methodist clergy are on the cusp of supporting gay and lesbian ordination,” Jones said.

Moreover, the UMC, which has about 12 million members worldwide, is growing most rapidly in Africa, where Christians tend to hold conservative views on theology and sexuality, noted Alan Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a Washington-based conservative think tank.


And while polls show American lay Catholics becoming more accepting of homosexuality, the hierarchy remains staunchly opposed. In fact, the Vatican mounted an investigation aimed at eradicating “homosexual behavior” from U.S. seminaries after the clergy sexual abuse scandal exploded in 2002.

The Mormon church, with about 6 million U.S. members, does not have full-time clergy, but said last year that celibate gay Mormons who are “worthy and qualified in every other way” should be allowed to have “callings,” or church assignments.

However, the church still says homosexuality “violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel.”


Jones and other social scientists say young evangelicals are more gay-friendly than previous generations. But the nation’s largest evangelical denomination, the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, has dug in its heels.

Homosexuality is “prohibited and condemned in both the Old and New Testaments,” the SBC said in a 2009 resolution. The resolution, which passed by a wide margin, also calls gay marriage “diametrically opposed to God’s word.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grumpy Old Person

    How sad that most of this article is devoted to describing how “popular” (or unpopular) gay people are instead of on the Christian thing to do to others what they would have done unto themselves.

    Equality is not dependent on ‘approval numbers’ – or at least, it SHOULDN’T be.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Interesting that the UMC is growing so rapidly in Africa where conservatisim is on edge of being fanatic. Of course if they wish to expand their Church and coffers they won’t care about the GLBT who worship among them and will keep on doing just what is working for them. Happy to hear the Presbytarian Church is growing in the light of our Lord.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment faith

    The church is calling good evil and evil good. We should love the sinner but hate the sin.

    Isaiah 5:20 “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    We are leaving the PCUSA see ya.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Well of course you are, cknuck. Wouldn’t expect anything different.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    Hey pagan don’t be angry, you can join em if you want to but we are taking our 10,000 plus members and leaving and I know other churches that are also.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mordred08

    I enjoy it when Christians fight amongst themselves instead of attacking us.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    What Church will you and the 10,000 others leaving the Presbytarian Church go to ck?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    The Christian Churches are fighting amongst themselves because they are divided because of you, Mordred, and the other Gay members or non-members. So anti-gay church members are still attacking the gay, by pushing against the pro-gay church members. Nobody is resting in peace in their churches anymore, it seems. They can join other protestant religions, but gay people are part of our society and families and of God’s world.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mordred08

    faith, homosexuality isn’t evil, no matter how many times you call it that.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    H, most Christians are not pushing against homosexual promoters we just separate ourselves from them as the bible advises. modred homosexuality is sinful no matter how many times people say it isn’t, the bible is very clear on that topic, God’s design of man and woman is very clear also.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Divorce is also sinful.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    cknuck, you told me I could join them if I wanted? No thanks—I like inclusive churches, not exclusive churches.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Brian

    Ultimately, ths church will have to find its way around the issue of homosexuality. They were successful in doing this with the issue of slavery. Most people don’t realize that at one time in world history, virtually every practicing Christian believed in human slavery and backed up that support by Biblical authority. If we as the Church are unable to reform our views on the issue of homosexuality, then I forsee us as being defined by the greater society as a numerically declining group of cranks. Most younger people today will have nothing to do with overtly homophobic institutions. The church doesn’t have all that long to reform itself. I have been amazed at how rapidly the western world is changing its views.

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